Maciej Drygas: A documentary filmmaker must love people

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

A training on documentary film for young film professionals was held in October 2019, in Tashkent, within the framework of the UNESCO project*. The training was conducted by Maciej Drygas, a famous Polish documentary filmmaker and teacher at the Lodz Film School (we wrote more about the training here).

We met with the filmmaker after the 4-day training to talk about his impressions of the training, the essence of documentary film, as well as his professional plans for the future.

Maciej Drygas was born on 3 April, 1956 in Lodz, Poland. Film and radio director, screenwriter, producer, professor at the Film School in Łódź. Graduate of the Directing Department of VGIK (Russian State University of Cinematography). Winner of international festivals. Documentary films and radio shows of Maciej Drygas were screened on TV and radio channels of Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Europe. Among the famous works of the director are "Weightless" (1994), "Voice of Hope" (2002), "One Day in People's Poland" (2006), "Abu Kharaz" (2013).

- Mr Drygas, please share your impressions of the training in Tashkent.

Before the training started, each of the participants received a task from me to prepare a short story about themselves and their family. I did not expect it to be that interesting. They were so touching and unique in their aesthetics and style of history that I was pleasantly surprised.

In my practice, this is the first such large-scale training workshop. For four days, I have been giving practical theory and teaching them exactly what they would really need to do in their work on documentary films.

I went over the fundamental theory of documentary film with the students. We paid special attention to the search for a topic, namely, where and how to find the topic, what is already a topic, what is not, what gives a dramatic perspective, and what is not. We considered communication with the hero from the point of view of art. What it means to ask the right questions, what it means to miss or not to miss the hero, what it means to close the dramaturgical episode and much more.

We also talked about a wide range of topics such as cooperating with a film crew, an operator, setting up a camera, shooting movies by surveillance, building a narration, shooting syncs, using sounds and music and etc.


- Tell us what documentary film means to you and how did you get into it?

I came to the documentary by accident. I studied at the VGIK at the Faculty of Feature Film and never thought that one day I would be engaged in documentary film. Then, when the Polish archives opened for me, I found the hero of my first documentary film, which turned my life upside down. I would like to point out that the life of the hero himself has also changed. In addition, since then, I have been working in this direction.


- What is your favorite thing about documentary films?

I have always been interested in working on a real "body". Even if I was writing scripts for feature films, the inspiration was the real facts. After all, the best scenarios and stories are prescribed in life.

I think that a good documentary film is an art. I have my own style. I just feel good about documentary films.


- How long does it take to create one movie?

I have been working on every single one of my films for a long time. One job can take from one to five years. I made some films. Every time I start working on a new topic, I am a little selfish about choosing the topic. I ask myself: "If you spend so many years of your life - will you be interested in this work, will you open the door to a new world? Will you discover a new space for yourself?". I need the new job to be a new step in understanding the world, people. This is the main motivation.


- What are you currently working on?

Now I am finishing my work with Polish archives - there are no more big secrets for me - and starting to work with archives all over the world. Now I am working on a film with the working title "Trains". In this film, I try to look at the events of the 20th century through the window of an ordinary train. I am looking all over the world for materials with people, trains, and train stations. Because travelling on a train is a kind of metaphor for our lives. It will be a story about life and death.

I think that a good documentary film is an art. I have my own style. I just feel good about documentary films.

- What difficulties arise in the process of creating a documentary film?

Documentary films have ethical difficulties, because the director is responsible for the fate of his characters. Sometimes the director does not fully understand the power of cinema. After the filming, the characters should return to normal life, despite the fact that you touch some intimate moments of their lives. This is very important. Not everything is for sale. I would not want to ruin someone's life. This is one of my principles.

Another professional principle is the ability to communicate with the world, to love people. Wherever I am, I try to communicate with people. I try to be open, to communicate with them and, in the end, I get such stories that the screenwriter of feature films simply would not have invented.

* It should be noted that the training on documentary film was held within the framework of the UNESCO project «Strengthening cultural and creative industries in Lao PDR, Uzbekistan and Rwanda», which was launched in 2017 with financial support from the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism of the Republic of Korea.